Entertainment

Ben Platt is On Our Mind

Despite Ben Platt’s young age, his career is not wanting for success.  He is an Oscar away from becoming an EGOT titleholder and considering the accomplishments he has already made, it is not a far reach. Now, with a very public relationship and engagement with actor Noah Galvin on the books, he hits the road to tour his third studio album Honeymind.

Honeymind refers to the “honeylike” state of being in love and the album truly reflects that. Claiming Noah as his muse for the record, it is a queer ode to Paul Simon, James Taylor, and Carole King. It is folk, it is Americana, it is stripped down and beautiful in its simplicity. Melodies and harmonies are artful counterparts to lyrics that actually tell a story. Ben sounds at his most reflective, his most sincere, and his most relaxed even as he soars through his vocal register. Love clearly has done a number on him. What inspired him to peel back the music back to its roots?

I think it came pretty organically. When I started working on this album in the spring of 2022, I went to Nashville because there were just so many writers there that I already loved and wanted to work with again, and some that I wanted to work with for the first time. And I just knew that their storytelling and emotional narrative and kind of songwriting is always the focus there. There’s not a lot of bells and whistles, and I think I was at a point in life where I was really looking to strip it back, and I didn’t necessarily go in with a stylistic plan. It felt like a great landing place in terms of my own style and just felt very organic to the type of singing and storytelling that I like to do. It felt like a really beautiful fit.

I also got excited by this crossroads of soft, introspective Americana and a really expressively queer perspective. I don’t think that’s necessarily a combo that I’ve experienced or seen a lot and I love all of that super-American classic imagery. I think the idea of getting to reclaim some of that through a queer lens was when the album sort of started to take shape for me, when those songs started coming out and I could experience the joy of that intersection.

This may be Ben’s most raw and vulnerable recording to date. Without the pomp of musical theatre, and without servicing a pop fandom, he is speaking from the heart, unaided by a script. How is he the most different, personally, from his other albums?

I have come to a stage in life, by sort of trial and error, that everybody does where I’m learning how to be less concerned with perception and external validation and what people are maybe wanting or expecting or thinking about me or saying online about me. This is meaningful to me because I wrote it from a place of purely just confidence in my own perspective and being as totally transparent and free in myself as I can be. A huge part of my comfortability comes from finding my life partner, Noah. Being in my relationship with Noah, gave me the freedom to a) write a million love songs about him, but b) to feel a lot of safety in not filtering myself or trying to put any external ideas or stylistic choices on it, and just be exactly what I want it to be.

Honeymind is not just for young lovers. It speaks to a queer narrative and beyond for those who have loved and those who have loved and lost. What does Ben want listeners to take away from the album most of all?

I think it depends on the listener. If it’s someone who feels like they’ve found love or in a relationship or with their partner, I hope that it feels like a way to express what that feels like and what they feel about their partner or what it feels like to be in a relationship, or how scary it can be to meet somebody, or how important it can feel to try to keep someone close. And for people that aren’t, I hope that it just gives them a better sense of me and my internal life and where I’m at and that the specificity begets some universality and hopefully, there are life experiences or moments or things that people are going through that it either soothes or triggers in a positive way or helps to cope with.

Most of what Ben has done has been in the spotlight. From his appearance in the Pitch Perfect films to hitting Broadway and film with Dear Evan Hansen, to last year’s turn in Parade, he’s media’s sweetheart. Following suit, his relationship with Noah has also been a highlight for the media. The two met as friends and didn’t start the dating process until five years later, choosing to explore their relationship during COVID. Galvin announced their dating relationship on a podcast appearance in 2020.  In 2021, they made their red-carpet debut as a couple for the Dear Evan Hansen film adaptation. In 2022, Platt proposed to Galvin, and six months later, Galvin returned the gesture. How do they maintain a healthy relationship with career and media whirling around?

It’s day by day, but a huge priority has been making sure there are a lot of elements and things about our relationship that are just for us and that we take privacy very seriously; just really wanting to focus first and foremost on our real everyday day-to-day life separate from public consumption.  We make sure that there’s a foundation of one-on-one connection that is just for the two of us. Then we can just feel free and joyful to share the things we feel comfortable sharing. We both feel really lucky as queer people to be in a position to share our relationship. I think I have always underestimated the power of just being totally forthright and transparent about the good things and the joyful things and the complex, normal things. You don’t really realize as you’re growing up how few examples of that you have until you see one. I certainly loved seeing that when I was growing up. It’s worth it to us to balance that public persona because we see that it’s valuable and we want to be part of the community in a visible way.

Ben had to cultivate his voice in many ways growing up. Los Angeles-born, he is the fourth of five kids and was surrounded by the entertainment industry. At an early age, he was already appearing at the Hollywood Bowl and on a national tour while performing in school musicals. By the time he headed to his brief stint at Columbia University, he had a resume of productions that belied his age. Coming from a full family and surrounded by the biz, how was he able to establish his own voice?

I had a wonderful loving family, and I still do. I grew up in a community that was very close-knit and so there was a lot of emphasis on sameness, a lot of unity and community came from like-mindedness. That can be a really beautiful thing in a lot of ways. But I think as I started to get older and feel the differences that I felt, I learned the importance of diverging and being confident and comfortable diverging. It’s easier said than done. And I think for me, I feel really privileged that I was working in the theater from such a young age because that’s where I found all of my first queer representation and saw queer producers and queer performers and writers and costume designers and saw them with their partners and their boyfriends and living their lives.

It was so much part of the context that it made it easy for me to identify myself and to feel, I’m like that guy. Even before it was a sexual thing. It was just an identity thing of like, this energy is what I experience. So, I really chalk up the ability to figure out my queer self to getting to be part of the theater because it’s so inherently queer and run by and created by so many queer people.

In terms of my own voice and perspective, I think as late as my early twenties when I did Evan Hansen – and I did the musical for so many years – when that was ending, I just felt such an intense desire to get back in touch with my own feelings and my own experiences because I’d focused so much on this other person and trying to inhabit this other person and put this kind of narrative across and this emotional experience. It was a really wonderful, cathartic thing to reinvestigate myself and focus on my own ideas. I feel like that is the period where I really kind of started to get a handle on my actual point of view.

In 2019, Ben released the music video for “Ease My Mind,” the second single on his debut album Sing to Me Instead. The video featured Platt with actor Charlie Carver. Without meaning to, he publicly came out. The media again swirled with headlines.

 The funny thing is that I didn’t really view it (as coming out) because everyone I’d ever met knew that I was – every cast member I’d ever worked with, every fan I’d ever met, all my family, all my friends, all my coworkers – I felt out. So, when I went to write that song, it was very much about the experience of anxiety and how relationships can allay anxiety, and that to me was the event of the song. And when I thought about what video I would make, it just seemed natural to depict my actual experience, which was this relationship that it was based on. It wasn’t until it came out and it was sort of received as a coming out that I even realized that’s what it was. There was no way to avoid it, essentially. I had no issue talking about it and there was finally a piece of art or storytelling that was relevant to the story. I just included it and have ever since.

Another part of Platt’s identity is his Jewish faith. Last year, he had the opportunity to star as Leo Frank in the Broadway revival of Parade, the real-life story of a Jewish American factory superintendent who was accused of the murder of a young girl. The court case became a media circus and Frank was convicted and sentenced to death. His conviction was changed to life in prison but was kidnapped by a mob and lynched, fueled by antisemitism. Modern research has concluded that Frank was wrongly accused. During show previews, the theater where the revival was being performed was met with neo-Nazi protestors sporting signs and antisemitic propaganda. The musical not only addresses antisemitism but also misogyny and racism towards the Black community. What was Ben’s reaction as he was preparing to take to the stage?

To be honest, it was not as surprising as maybe you would think. When you grow up a Jewish person, it’s just like antisemitism is part of the deal the same way it is when you’re a queer person, it’s like homophobia is just built into society. It was obviously upsetting, and I hate that it happened, but, if anything, it acted as a reminder of the reason we were telling that particular story and how important it was to be doing that, and how art is super powerful. I think any kind of art can be very powerful, even if it’s not that directly dealing with something that is top of mind as a modern person. But I think particularly when you get a piece that’s really hitting something on the head that needs to be hit, it feels like such a gift because you feel so productive getting to go and do it every day.  It’s beyond comprehension that there are people with that much ignorance and hatred who are so willfully ignorant. But, I felt grateful to be able to put that into action in that I didn’t have to just witness that and then go home and sit with it, but that I could get on stage and tell that story and put some of that anger and frustration into something productive.

Ben will be hitting the road for his Honeymind tour in June and July. Connecting with an audience is very special to him, and kind of the whole point of his putting music out there.

Performing live is like the end game for me, always. I love to song write and put out records. I obviously love that people have the opportunity to listen to them in their homes, but the idea of performing them is always in my mind. It always feels like the finish line, a celebration when I finally get to sing my songs live on stage.  I think so much can feel ephemeral or virtual or nonspecific; everything can feel amorphous, especially when you’re putting music out into a void. When you go on the road and you see real faces and real people and feel real energy and see that they understand it and they like it and it makes them dance or listen, or cry, or smile, it’s like the ultimate vote of confidence and the ultimate reminder of why I do it in the first place. It’s definitely bar none my favorite part of being an artist or performer of any kind is the live connection with people and people who take the time to come and see specifically me. It makes me want to give as much as I can give.

While Ben’s career and personal life continue to thrive, he is involved in perhaps his most ambitious project that won’t wrap for two more decades. He will star as Charley Kringas in the film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. The story centers around a trio of friends whose friendship suffers the trials of Hollywood over the course of 20 years, told in reverse chronological order. The film, in following with the musical, will be filmed over 20 years with the cast coming together every couple of years.

Because it’s written about the disillusion of a friendship over the course of many years, it’s hard to really express that on stage authentically. The idea of actually getting to do that over the course of time and watch us go from our most jaded to our youngest and most pure selves, I think has the opportunity to be really powerful. But it’s just so crazy. You have to just kind of think about it as little, short films that come every couple of years that are such a gift for a couple of weeks to get to reunite with this great group of people and focus on the scene at hand and do the best you can.

All eyes continue to be on Ben, in whatever direction he moves in next. Personally and professionally, he is under entertainment’s microscope. With the pressure of being Platt, how does he keep his mental health in check?

I’ve definitely had a journey in the last couple of years. It kind of happens without you or even realizing it when you’re an artist, especially in an American society or modern society, which is that there’s so much that hinges on external validation and praise and critique and social media and all these things that are outside of the actual thing itself. I think I’ve learned a lot of meaningful lessons in the last couple of years just about trying to not put too much value and expectation on those things and to just do things that feel organically fulfilling, meaningful, fun, joyful, important to me. That’s way easier said than done, but it’s been a positive kind of energy. I think a huge part of maintaining my mental health has become my partner. I feel really lucky to have somebody who can be a really unbiased voice and supporter and who knows me inside and out and will tell me the truth whether it’s a hard truth or a happy truth. It just puts into a much bigger perspective for me, people who say things who really don’t have any context for who I am or what’s actually going on in my mind and heart. It makes it much easier to swallow that there are always going to be people all over the spectrum where that’s concerned. It’s all about focusing on the people who really see you and understand you and respect you. To have someone like that who’s such a champion has really changed the game for me in terms of my own wellness.

And what is Ben’s message to the community this Pride season?

I think it’s to really focus on the joy, complexity, humanity, and reality of being a queer person,  and to be as forthright and open and loud about that as we can. As much as it’s important to talk about being on the offensive and the things that we’re having to defend ourselves against, and scary legislation, and homophobia, and trauma and oppression, all those things are real, and I don’t think that we need to ignore them, but I think it’s so powerful to lean into the ways in which we’re not only equal but honestly superior and very special. It behooves us to really let those things sparkle. And additionally, specifically this Pride season, just lifting up our trans community members and making sure that they get to celebrate those things too because they’re busy having to fight for their identities and their existence. They’re not getting to enjoy just the compelling nature of who they are as humans and their joy and their talents and their art. So just lifting up each other is our job as queer community members.

For information on Ben’s Honeymind tour, head to BenPlattMusic.com

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Published by
Alexander Rodriguez

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